The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.
Adding to the growing list of worrisome actions taken by India’s Narendra Modi led government, Amnesty International has been forced to halt their activities in India after being accused of ‘money laundering activities’ and noncompliance with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
In a statement to the BBC, Rajat Khosla, senior director of advocacy at Amnesty International and former Human Rights Adviser at the World Health Organization, expressed grave concerns about the situation. “We are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India,” he said. “Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner.” The news comes after their bank accounts were frozen for the second time in as many years. Up till then, Amnesty India had channeled the contributions of more than 100,000 Indians towards humanitarian work.
Since taking power in 2014, the current government has had a disquieting record of silencing dissenting voices and quashing opposing viewpoints. It is worth noting that before its shutdown, Amnesty International had released two reports about two major events in India involving human rights – the anti-CAA protests in Delhi from late 2019 and the situation in Kashmir post the dissolution of Article 370.
Let’s start with the first. The organization had highlighted the role of the Delhi police in fueling the violence during the anti-CAA protests in an investigative report which was hotly contested by the Delhi police themselves. As for the report on Kashmir, this was not the first time that their views on the perennially conflicted valley were met with opposition from the authorities. By 2016 Amnesty International had been slapped with sedition charges after the release of their report titled “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir”. Their latest report on Kashmir was published in August of this year, providing an update on the human rights situation in the valley.
According to a piece via independent journalism website The Wire, it happened to be these two reports which “provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate” the organization. “It is with great concern that I have been observing the rule of law deteriorate in India”, said Maria Arena, chair of European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
To make matters worse, this is not the first major international human rights organization to be turned away from India in the last five years. In 2017, Christian humanitarian aid body Compassion International halted their operations in India due to tightening governmental controls on their funds. In a statement to a congressional committee, their lead attorney claimed that they faced an “unprecedented, highly coordinated, deliberate, and systematic attack intended to drive us out.” India received the highest amount of donations from Compassion International, with around 145,000 children being supported per year.
Paul (named changed for privacy), a former Compassion child, talked to us about his personal experience with their work. “As a young boy, I lived on the streets a lot. That one meal they gave me in the afternoon helped me to survive. And it was not just any old food, it was high-quality food with all the nutrients I needed. I will not forget what they have done for me and countless other children here.”
This troubling update comes in the thick of accusations against the government for creating an environment conducive to the stifling of free speech. A recent example would be when prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan was booked by the Supreme Court for ‘contempt of court’ after his tweets criticizing the actions of the Chief Justice of India. Another example aligns with when the Prime Minister’s Office blocked a Right to Information request about the PM Cares fund, which has collected over 3000 crores (around 400m dollars) with little accountability on how it has been spent.
As circumstances in India grow more hostile towards foreign humanitarian aid, the need of the hour – especially during this pandemic – is to provide support for local NGOs that are working to eradicate poverty and provide aid to underprivileged sections of society.
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